Vilvoorde to replace portrait of Leopold II with exhibition on diversity


The city in Flemish Brabant is removing all portraits of monarchs from its top floor and opening it up to the public

‘A facelift’

Vilvoorde is removing all of the portraits of Belgian monarchs from its city hall aside from those of the current king and queen, Philippe and Mathilde. The city council made the decision in order to rid itself of portraits of Leopold II.

The infamous Leopold II was the king who made the Congo his personal property in 1885, later turning it over to the state, at which point it became the Belgian Congo. The barbaric conditions in the Congo, whose people were forced to produce the rubber that made Belgium rich, have made Leopold’s name synonymous with Colonial exploitation.

“Leopold II is associated with one of the most horrific periods in Belgian history,” said Vilvoorde mayor Hans Bonte (S.PA). “We have made the decision to no longer have his portrait in a public place.”

Diversity is an important aspect of Vilvoorde and something we would like to put in the spotlight

- Mayor Hans Bonte

The councillors in Vilvoorde, just over the border with Brussels, have been discussing the portraits of the monarchs for years. They hang in the large reception room on the top floor of city hall.

Leftist political party PVDA recently put the subject on the top of its agenda because it wanted the portrait of Leopold specifically to disappear. PVDA has said that it isn’t interested in erasing history, simply not celebrating figures with a past such as Leopold’s.

Finally, the city council made the decision to remove all portraits of former monarchs and to stage a permanent exhibition in the space, which will be open to the public. “The reception room will get a facelift,” said Vilvoorde mayor Hans Bonte (SP.A). “We are going to create a space for an exhibition focused on the diversity of the city. That’s an important aspect of Vilvoorde and something we would like to put in the spotlight. And there’s no better place to do that than city hall.”

Photo: The portrait of Leopold II in Vilvoorde’s reception hall
©Courtesy PVDA Vilvoorde